Ask PD: I Fall Off the Wagon and Binge

September 2, 2015

Ask PD: I Fall Off the Wagon and BingeToday, a reader asks:

Hello,

Thanks for your beautiful site.

I have been trying a fruit and vegetable-based diet, I love the taste of fresh raw fruit and fresh veggies, but I keep failing and bingeing on pizzas, chocolate, bread, cheese, butter (I live in Italy). It is soul-destroying, each time I think I can do it, but each time I fail, and find myself clogged up and need a lot of time to clear myself out, and the vicious circle goes on, and it is very bad for my health.

What can I do to stop?
Any advice is greatly appreciated, I want to be healthy, but something keeps dragging me down. Thanks very much for your help.

C, from Italy

Dear C.,

Thank you for your words about PD, and we’re so glad that you’ve been trying out a plant-based diet! You are by no means alone in your struggles, and I can imagine how hard it is to resist the plentiful animal products in Italy, especially if you’ve eaten them all your life and are around friends and family who do so.

However, going cold-turkey is by no means the only way to adopt a vegan lifestyle, and it may make sense for you to be more gradual in your approach. Try being vegetarian for a few weeks or months (just cutting out meat, but still eating dairy), and see how you feel. And try to be gentle and loving toward your body during the transition instead of judging every slip up, which will exacerbate negative thoughts toward your attempts. I was vegetarian for six years before becoming vegan, and it took me several months to cut out first cheese then finally Greek yogurt (the only two dairy products I still consumed regularly by then).

Also remember that vegan does not mean exclusively fruits and vegetables. You may be craving and bingeing on less healthy options because of unbalanced nutrition. We all need protein, carbs, and fat in addition to fruits and vegetables, and there are so many satisfying option to fill these needs—even in Italy! I can imagine a hearty bean soup for the winter, or a refreshing bowl of whole wheat pasta, drizzled with some olive oil, and bursting with flavorful herbs and tomatoes . . . Seeking out recipes to make at home can also help you realize where substitutions can be made. If you’re making something that calls for butter, for instance, try Earth Balance (if it’s available near you) or if it will work for the recipe another kind of plant-based oil; canola oil is my go-to for baking, and olive oil will roast and sauté vegetables just as well as butter.

You mention that occasionally you slip up and binge, and that you feel “clogged up,” as if you “need to clear out.” I understand that anxiety. But instead of using unhealthy methods to “undo the damage,” try letting your body process the intake in a natural way. Even if you’ve eaten large or imperfect meals, let your body digest and respond to it in its own time so that you don’t swing from one extreme to the next. This gives your body a chance to settle into the mid-point, so you can start your healthy eating from a calm, rested point. Also, your hunger level fluctuates daily–sometimes you’re starving, and other times you’re not–and that’s perfectly normal for any diet. Eat more when you’re more hungry, and less if you’re feeling not so hungry. The best thing to do is listen to your body.

Don’t be afraid to enlist people close to you as a support system. If you let your friends know that you’re experimenting with being vegetarian/vegan, there may be fewer temptations in social contexts. Having someone to share your struggles with, or even change her diet with you, will give you someone else to be accountable to other than yourself. And, most importantly, you’ll be able to share one more thing in your relationship, forming an even stronger bond that’s healthy in more ways than one. You don’t know how many friendships have come out of Peaceful Dumpling alone!

One last thing to keep in mind is that a little indulgence is never off-limits, as long as it’s not an over-indulgence. Having a piece of chocolate or even a full dessert won’t harm your health, and if you’re satisfied by other meals during your day you may feel less inclined to binge—on anything, sweet or savory.

Good luck on this exciting new chapter in your life!

Love,

PD

More reader questions on Ask PD: How Do I Transition to a Clean Yet Nourishing Diet?

I Can’t Eat Soy or Nutritional Yeast

Related: 7 Tips for a Healthy Relationship with Your Body

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